Knight Commission: Limit Number of Video Personnel

In the current environment of big dollars changing hands in the big business of college sports, the “student” part of the term “student-athlete” is often forgotten. On June 17, however, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics urged colleges and universities across the country to reinstate the student in student-athlete through a set of financial reforms to college sports.

Chief among these recommendations, with direct implications for the future of college sports video, is a reduction in the number of games played in each season and the number of video personnel assigned to specific sports.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics is an independent organization that advocates better alignment of college sports programs with educational missions of universities. Over the past 18 months, the commission has examined the economics of college sports and, in the report released on Thursday, proposes solutions to problems identified by the commission and university presidents as caused by the fact that growth in athletics spending outpaces that in academic investment.

The report identifies three core principles to which athletics financial policies should adhere: give public transparency to financial reports, reward institutions that make academic values a priority, and treat athletes as students first and foremost, not as professionals.

Misleading Headlines
“This is particularly timely, given the commercially driven agendas of conference realignment that have dominated the news this past week,” said William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland. “There is every reason to believe that the directions the major programs are headed will lead to further escalation of spending and even greater imbalances in the fiscal priority for athletics over academics.”

Kirwan went on to explain that the reality for most college athletic programs is much different from what recent headlines indicate. According to a USA Today study, over the past five years, just seven universities in the country generated enough revenue from athletics to cover their expenses. The rest had to rely on support from the greater university to balance their budgets. Therefore, the commission believes that the formulas by which shared revenues are distributed must be more closely aligned with academic values.

A Blow to Video Departments
The portion of the commission’s report that most heavily weighs on the video department is the third policy: treating athletes as students, not professionals.

“This treatment cannot be a statement of philosophy,” said Carol Cartwright, president of Bowling Green State University. “It must guide our approach.”

Cartwright outlined several specific recommendations within this approach. Among them: reducing the number of regular-season games each season, eliminating or reducing non-traditional seasons, and limiting the number of non-coaching personnel assigned to each sport, which includes video professionals.

“Some high-profile football and basketball teams have evolved into very elaborate operations that rival professional sports teams in the number of support personnel and compensation provided to their coaches,” Cartwright said. “The expectations and time demands for college athletes have risen as a result. We recommend that new rules be established to limit the number of non-coaching personnel assigned to certain sports, referring to positions such as directors of sports operations and video personnel.”

Academic Sadness? No March Madness
The commission also recommends rewarding practices that make academic values a priority, by addressing academic eligibility for championships at the start of each year and offering financial incentives to more closely tie revenue distribution to academic values. Dr. Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University, explained that the commission recommends conditioning eligibility for post-season tournaments on teams’ being on track to graduate at least half of their athletes.

“The commission believes that current standards remain too low and it takes too long for post-season bans based on poor academic performance to be enforced,” he said. “Tournament sports and the financial rewards that accompany them should be reserved for members who meet academic eligibility standards.”

In addition, the commission recommends reallocating at least 20% of the funds available for distribution from the BCS to an Academic-Athletics Balance Fund, which would be distributed by conferences to their members, assuming that the teams can predict a 50% graduation rate and an appropriate balance is maintained between institutional investments in athletics and education.

No NCAA Videogames
Len Elmore, a former collegiate and professional basketball player, added the players’ perspective to the discussion, opining that college athletes’ names and images should not be permitted to be used for financial gain or to promote commercial entities.

“There must be a bright line between college and professional sports,” he said. “These recommendations will help to better distinguish that line.”

New Super-Conferences More of the Same
Given the conference land-grabs that have taken place over the past few weeks, the commission directly addressed how new TV contracts could affect the current state of affairs.

“We believe that any increase in funds in the level of new TV contracts will quickly be absorbed into the same kinds of escalations of costs in coaches’ salaries and staff members,” Turner explained. “You might get increased revenue, but that just gets absorbed and very quickly. We’ll be back to where we are today, except that the health of the entire FBS system suffers, as the disparity between the top and the middle continues to grow.

“If we’re going to make more revenue,” he continued, “let’s make certain that a significant fraction of that revenue is dedicated to rewarding high academic performance. That’s really living up to the standards and the values of the NCAA and our institutions.”

Turner went on to explain that the current financial model for college sports is unsustainable. While there may be a dozen schools that do come out on top financially each year, they can’t just go off by themselves. The current system requires the context of a range of schools in a conference.

“Intercollegiate athletics as a whole, both within the community and on each campus, requires that everybody be able to participate on some level,” he said. “We’re hopeful that general public support creates a climate in which the sense of responsibility for the health of all institutions will occur.”

The full multimedia report, titled Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Value, and the Future of College Sports, is available on the Knight Commission Website at restoringbalance.knightcommission.org.